Summary: my neighbour is the one I meet and can assist if they are in need
Most of you this past spring filed your income tax returns, and some of you I imagine are like me wondering if perhaps there is something else you could deduct so that you could pay less tax. But, have you ever wished that you could pay more tax? I’ll never forget the day that my dad told me that he wished that he would be paying $100,000 a year in income tax. A $100,000? Why would you want to pay that much. And as a mischievous smile breaks across his face he say starting to laugh ‘That means I would be keeping over $250,000. And as I started to laugh I to realized that I wished that I was paying $100,000 income tax a year.
But how did my dad turn a conversation where I was complaining about paying the little income I paid while going to grad school into a conversation where I joined him wishing I was paying more tax?
What happened was that my dad understood my complained was really a way of seeking a way to get out of paying any tax, thinking poor me. What he did was turn my search for a loop hole and told a story.
Jesus when he was approached by the lawyer with this question did something very similar. He knew that lawyers love definitions. Jesus also knew that therer was nothing wrong with the lawyers knowledge of the Scriptures. But as Eugene Peterson point out there was something very wrong with the way he read it. It was the HOW of his reading that was interested in definging and depersonalising, that resulted in spending countless hours talking about the text when the text of Scripture demands participation. Jesus insists on participation. What Jesus does in his reply to the who is my neighbour question is once again demonstrate that the words of Scripture of the living God are words to be listened to, submitted to, obeyed and lived.
Jesus didn’t answer the question that was asked. Because any question that asks for a definition can very easy turn into a long night of hair splitting. But what Jesus did do was he told a story and that story pulled the questioner into becoming a living and breathing, flesh and blood neighbour (or not) and he did that by not bloodlessly defining the neighbour.
Let’s take a look.
As we look at versus 24 -28 we see that there is nothing wrong with the lawyer’s knowledge of scripture. But even in Jesu reply we see the participation in the knowledge that Jesus insists on “ DO this and you will live. Now the lawyer being a smart man knows that it is very difficult for anyone to judge his heart or his relationship with God goes directly to the part that he sees would be most difficult how do I love my neighbour that way? And in his question he asks Jesus to define or limit who his neighbour is.
But Jesus doesn’t answer the question, have you ever noticed how Jesus does that in your life, he doesn’t answer the questions you ask? But responds with a story.
And the first guy to walk by this guy who had just been beaten , stripped and left for dead is a priest and he walks by intentionally not helping. Wew, at least I’m off the hook! Then a Levite walks by, someone that s actively involved the order and leading of worship, so it looks like all the lay readers and perhaps even vestry members get a free pass to. And then this Samaritan walks by and stops. This guy who’s not involved with all the religious stuff and he stops. And He Shows mercy in three ways:
He provides emergency care by bandaging the wounds and pouring oil and wine on them.
He makes a personal commitment
by placing him on his animal thereby he’s walking
takes him to an inn and cares for him.
He commits to covering the cost of caring for him
I like to think of this as the rehabilitative cost or the long term costs. The man’s life is no longer in immediate danger but he is far from healthy.
Then Jesus asks the lawyer, which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbour?
And the lawyer reply’s, “the who showed mercy”
And Jesus leaves him saying “You go and do Likewise.”
What Jesus does is inclusive of all people where as the definition the lawyer was seeking was seeking to be exclusive limiting who his neighbour is. And what Jesus does is make it clear that in terms of the kingdom of God you cannot define who your neighbour is, you can only be a neighbour, by responding with mercy to those in need. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in his great sermon on this passage was that the Priest and Levite where so concerned about what would happen to them if they got involved that they missed what the Samaritan saw, If I dont’t stop and help this man, what will happen to him? And this is the question Jesus desires to burn into each of our hearts. If you don’t show mercy, What will happen to him/her.